California has a rich golfing history and the Genesis Invitational plays an important role in that. The tournament, which for decades was known as the Los Angeles Open, was first held in 1926 when Harry Cooper won $3,500 for his win. Today, of course, the prize fund on offer is rather more impressive, with the total purse edging ever closer to a massive $10m.
The tournament has grown in stature as well as prize money in the years that have past and has taken in some of the very best courses in the L.A. metropolitan area. This tournament has changed its name many times over the years but is now known as the Genesis Invitational and is hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation, the event has a long-term home in Riviera Country Club. The exclusive and world renowned course, three times a major championship venue, always plays host to a very strong team as most of the best golfers on the planet make their way for the final event of the PGA Tour’s California swing.
|2022||Riviera Country Club||Joaquín Niemann|
|2021||Riviera Country Club||Max Homa|
|2020||Riviera Country Club||Adam Scott|
|2019||Riviera Country Club||J. B. Holmes|
|2018||Riviera Country Club||Bubba Watson|
2022: Joaquín Niemann
Mito Pereira was struggling to hold back the tears after the Genesis Invitational. It wasn’t that he was overcome with his 15th place finish – although it was another big step forward in his promising young career – it was because he could not believe he was watching his close friend Joaquin Niemann receive the trophy for this prestigious tournament from Tiger Woods.
Nobody else, other than Niemann’s close circle had any such trouble believing their eyes. Golf fans have been expecting big things of the 23-year-old ever since he earned his PGA Tour card as a 19-year-old and he held the lead at Riviera Country Club right from the off after a remarkable first round of 63. Even more remarkably, Niemann backed that up with another 63 which put him firmly in control of the tournament.
The first signs of nerves came during Niemann’s back nine on Saturday. He went on an extended run without a birdie into his final round but when he ended that on the eighth hole and then fired in an eagle at 11 he shook off those nerves. Collin Morikawa, who closed with a round of six under, the impressive rookie Cameron Young, Adam Scott, Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas all threatened to usurp Niemann but it was the Chilean who stood beaming next to Woods when all was said and done. He finished two clear of Young and Morikawa on –19 and will now be looking to build on that as we move towards the first major of the year.
2021: Max Homa
There is nothing quite like a home win for a professional golfer. Max Homa can attest to that. He fell in love with the game watching the annual tournament at Riviera, learned how to play the game as a child in California and then went on to star in a strong University of California team. Homa’s love for Riviera grew even stronger with this win at the 2021 Genesis Invitational.
Homa had to show tremendous heart and spirit to secure this win. He missed a putt from three feet to win outright on the final green which forced him into a playoff with Tony Finau. Many players would have struggled to cope with the disappointment of making such a poor putt at such a crucial time but Homa did not fold.
After a quick morale-boosting call with his wife, he got back to business. A remarkable par save from behind a tree on the first playoff hole was followed by another par that finished the tournament off. “I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this,” said Homa. “Tiger Woods is handing [me and my caddie Joe] a trophy, that’s a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolising him, idolising Riviera Country Club, idolising the golf tournament.” Whilst it was all smiles for the home Homa, it was another missed chance for Finau who has garnered an unwanted reputation for being a nearly man who cannot quite get over the line.
2020: Adam Scott
The popularity of the Genesis Invitational is largely due to Riviera. The course bared its teeth once again to serve up a thrilling finish on Sunday. As many as 12 players got themselves into a position to win the tournament during the final round but it was Adam Scott who stood up best to the conditions and the golf course to win his 14th PGA Tour title.
Scott’s experience was a major weapon in California. He knew that he would make mistakes during the round and that the key thing was not to compound them by making rash decisions or getting too down on himself. That Scott would remain calm wasn’t in doubt. That he would putt well enough to win was, however.
The popular Australian has struggled badly on the greens ever since the belly putter ban but he made some massive putts. While Riviera got the better of his playing partner Rory McIlroy, Scott kept doing just enough to win. “I’m stoked with his,” Scott said, in true Aussie fashion, after the hard work was done and the win confirmed. “It’s a big step, whatever point in my career I’m at. I haven’t won for three years. This feels very special.”
2019: J. B. Holmes
It is a curious part of a professional golfer’s life that they lose much, much more often than they win. Not all losses are the same though. Justin Thomas will feel sore about his loss in the 2019 Genesis Invitational longer than perhaps any other of his career to date. Thomas was four shots clear of J. B. Holmes heading into the final round before Riviera showed its teeth and a he threw away his lead with a closing round of +4, meaning Holmes’ Sunday 70 was enough for the win.
Riviera is an unforgiving course that can ruthlessly expose any weakness in a player’s game. That weakness for Thomas was his putting. His game on the greens unravelled as the round wore on as he took 19 putts for the closing nine holes. For a player such as Thomas, usually one of the best around on the green, this was a major surprise. It was just the help that Holmes knew he would need though. “I knew it was going to be very difficult to shoot a low score,” the winner said afterwards. “I needed some help from Justin.”
Thomas was not the only man to go backwards on Sunday so Holmes deserves great credit for hanging on to win. Windy, cold conditions can easily sap the life out of a player coming on the end of a big tournament week of golf but Holmes stuck steadfastly to his process – even if it can be a frustratingly slow watch – and was able to enjoy the fruits of his labour in California.
2018: Bubba Watson
When Bubba Watson likes a golf course he tends to cash in and as we have seen from some of the winners, the layout here does tend to favour the big hitters who know their way around tough greens. He turned the suitability of Augusta National to his style of play into two green jackets and did likewise at Riviera with his Northern Trust Open (as the tournament was then called) wins in 2014 and 2016. Watson’s course form marked him out as a real danger ahead of the newly named Genesis Open in 2018 and he duly took advantage once more to win the tournament for the third time in five years.
Only two men have won this event more times than Watson. He pulled level with Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan on three wins courtesy of a two shot victory over both Kevin Na and Tony Finau. “To be in with the like of those guys [Palmer and Hogan], winning three times at Riviera, it’s more than I could ever dream,” Watson said after the event.
The size of the prize ahead of him did not put Watson off from playing his own unique style of golf. When he first made it onto the PGA Tour some people scoffed at so-called ‘Bubba golf’ but he has made it fit to some of the most revered golf courses in America. Indeed, it was only because he allowed himself to get aggressive that he got in position to win. He only believed that he could go on and win the tournament after holing out from a bunker on 14, a shot which gave him a lead that he would not relinquish.